It is said that children are a gift from God. As gifts, they are expected to be treated with love and care. Children form part of the vulnerable group that constantly needs protection from adults.
UNICEF defines child protection as “preventing and responding to violence and abuse against children –including commercial sexual exploitation, trafficking, child labour and such harmful practices as female genital mutilation and child marriage.”
However, there are a number of practices in Africa that need to be stopped to protect vulnerable children. Some of these practices jeopardise the future of African children while others claim their lives.
Here are four horrendous practices some African children are subjected to which are against their human rights:
Many cultures in Africa perceive children with intellectual and physical disabilities, including Down Syndrome, as evil. This belief has resulted in the death of many children who are born with disabilities. In Sierra Leone, children with Down Syndrome are called ‘devil children’ and are denounced because it is believed that they bring bad luck to their families. These children are consequently removed from the community with a ritual.
This occurrence is not different from what happens in other parts of Africa. In South Africa, they are seen as cursed and mothers of such children are goaded to throw them away. Similarly, in Uganda and Tanzania, babies with the condition are mostly abandoned or killed.
Similar beliefs about children with congenital defects are held by other cultures in Africa. Ghanaian investigative journalist Anas Aremeyaw Anas filmed a documentary about the killing of “spirit children” in Northern Ghana, Burkina Faso, Benin and Nigeria in 2013.
When a mother gives birth to a child with such disabilities, the child is accused of being the cause of every misfortune that has befallen the family. Families with such children consult soothsayers, who would confirm whether the child is indeed a messenger of the spirit or not, without necessarily seeing the child. The soothsayer would then prepare a concoction and force feed the children with it, which more often than not result in death.
This practice emerged as a result of poverty. Many communities in the north are mostly peasants who find taking care of such children a burden and so they try to get rid of them with such practice. With time, many children with Down Syndrome have disappeared with such practices.
Africans need to be educated on the occurrence of abnormality and how best to care for them. Killing such children is cruel and they need to be saved from this inhumane practice.
It is not uncommon to find children engaged in work that is beyond their capacity due to their age. Even though there have been several campaigns and initiatives to combat child trafficking, it still remains a problem for children in Africa.
Children from poor homes are usually ‘sold off’ to people who use these children as labourers on their farms or as sex workers and domestic house helps. Their caretakers often subject them to violent treatments which include starvation. A 2014 study by International Justice Mission reveals that more than 57.6 per cent of children working on the Southern Lake Volta were trafficked and forced into labour with a majority of them being young boys.
Likewise, a U.S. State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report also showed that girls as young as eight years old were working in brothels in and around Addis Ababa’s Central Market in Ethiopia. In another report by the same agency for Nigeriens, it was reported that boys in Niger were subjected to forced labour which included sending them off to neighbouring countries to engage in begging while Nigerien girls were placed in domestic servitude
For a continent that is a staunch believer of the ‘spare the rod and spoil the child’ rule, it is not farfetched to think that corporal punishment is still ongoing in many African households and institutions of education, particularly primary and secondary education. In May 2018, a proprietor in Ogun state, Nigeria, tied pupils to crosses and flogged them for lateness. He was arrested by the police following his actions. There have been extremities that have gone unnoticed and unpunished. Even though many countries, including South Africa, Togo, South Sudan, Benin, and recently Ghana, have banned the practice especially in their schools, it still happens on a domestic level as many parents believe it is the most effective method of instilling discipline among children. Parents and guardians need to find other mild methods of ensuring correct behaviour among children; corporal punishment is not the only way.
Killing children with albinism
Unfortunately for albinos, they also face the same prejudice as children with down syndrome. There are many myths surrounding albinos in different cultures across Africa. Albinism is quite common in Sub-Saharan Africa where albinos are mostly persecuted because it is believed that certain parts of their bodies carry spiritual powers.
Across Africa, people living with albinism – a congenital disorder characterized by the complete or partial absence of pigment in the skin, hair and eyes – have been subjected to some of the worst forms of discrimination and abuse, including death. This abuse stems from long-held stereotypes and a misguided belief that body organs of people with albinism can bring luck and wealth. In fact, some politicians, businessmen, and wealthy individuals are said to spend thousands of dollars on albino parts.
It is antithetical to say that children are a gift and yet expose them to harm. Children are vulnerable; they need all the protection they can get from these inhumane practices